The institution of halukkah: a historical review

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The Hebrew word halukkah, meaning 'division', has, from the Middle Ages, been used to describe the collection and distribution of money to Jews living in the Holy Land, and especially in Jerusalem, to enable them to study with? out having to earn a living. The duty to help the poor is derived from Deuteronomy 15:7-8: 'If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.' Rabbinic commentators concluded that the poor of one's own township ('of thy gates') take priority over those elsewhere, but, more importantly, that the inhabitants of the Land of Israel have priority over those of other lands ('in thy land'), an idea made explicit in the definitive codification of Jewish law, Shulhan Arukh, which states: 'The inhabitants of the Holy Land must be assisted before the inhabitants of any other land'.1 The special status of Jerusalem was pointed out by Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, a nineteenth-century leader of Hungarian Jewry, who saw it as the holiest place in Israel because it had been the site of the Temple.2 Another reason for which residents of the Holy Land had first call on alms was the view that the Yishuv ('settlement') in Eretz Israel protected the graves of the Patriarchs and Sages among others, together with ancient synagogues and Sifrei Torah, from attack by non-Jews.3 Furthermore, Diaspora Jewry had come to the view that it was important to support their co-religionists in the Land of Israel engaged in talmudic study, for these were seen as preparing for the coming Redemption. It was also regarded as a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Eretz Israel by proxy

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